A different kind of religious education


When I was a young lad of seventeen, I attended BYU Idaho. No, I’m not from Idaho or even Utah. I was born and raised in California, where I still live. If you have been to Rexburg, Idaho in the dead of winter, you might wonder why anybody would want to leave the Golden State to obtain an education there. What is the attraction of this school in the Snake River valley?

My two oldest sisters are BYU Provo graduates while my brother, two other sisters and I each attended Ricks College, as it was called at the time. My academic experience at Ricks was not particularly stellar, but my parents said that their money was not wasted. I brought something back from Idaho after just one year that was far more valuable than a transcript.

I’m sure there was some anxiety in my mother’s heart as she sent her children off to this church sponsored school so far away. What did she hope we would obtain there? She must have been disappointed that I did not stick it out to the end of the Spring semester, but I did not hear her complain. She sensed that something had changed in me and I think it pleased her greatly.

Seminary and Institute

In my high school days I went to early-morning seminary. Getting up between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning was not my favorite thing to do. But once I was in class, I appreciated the warm and comfortable spirit I felt there. I will be forever grateful to dedicated seminary teachers who sacrificed to teach the gospel and strengthen the testimonies of their young students.

In my later college years I participated in the Institute program. Seminary was an introduction to the basic sacred texts of the church. Institute classes brought in-depth study of the doctrines found in those scriptures. I enjoyed each of the classes I took, but my favorites had to do with church history. I was fascinated by the background story of the Doctrine and Covenants.

But there were some things about church history that I did not find in the official CES texts. I knew about them because my mother was a church history enthusiast. She had owned an LDS bookstore and had filled our house with all kinds of books that added to the official curriculum. Since mother was a teacher, I got more of my church history from her than from the classes.

Religious education in the home

When the subject of polygamy came up in the early morning seminary classes, I wanted to know more. I asked mother about it when I got home. After telling me a few simple facts, she handed me a book and said, “Here, you can read about it yourself.” That’s when I learned about Joseph’s plural wives. I wondered to myself if the seminary teacher even knew about this.

My mother’s attitude toward the whole issue of plural marriage was one of quiet nonchalance, as if it were no big deal and nothing to get all worked up about, so I didn’t. Although mother was a convert, she had studied this and dozens of other controversial subjects out in her own mind. Because she was not bothered by what she discovered in church history, neither was I.

The next time the subject of plural marriage came up in class, I volunteered a few facts that I had learned and was a little surprised by the reaction of the teacher as well as my peers. The teacher was flustered and my classmates were open-mouthed in surprise. It was obvious that I had said something that they didn’t know and had never heard before. I got quiet real quick.

A mother’s loving instruction

The same thing happened when the subject of translating the Book of Mormon came up. When I asked mother about the Urim and Thummim, we discussed it and then she mentioned that Joseph also used seer stones or peep stones as they were called. She could see I was interested so once again, she handed me a book and said, “Here, tell me about what you find out.”

Do you see the pattern? Mother would not overload me with information. She just answered a few basic questions at my level and then invited me to learn more on my own. I could tell that she knew more than she was sharing. As soon as I got to her level through independent study, we were able to discuss it openly and freely. Sometimes we reached the limit of her knowledge.

When that happened, mother would say, “That’s all I know about it but I’m sure there’s more. Why don’t you take it to the Lord in prayer?” Now this didn’t happen very often and at that point in my life I didn’t really understand what mother was talking about so I didn’t pursue it. I’m sure it frustrated mother and contributed to her desire to have me go to Rick’s College.

My church school experience

Of course it is mandatory to take religion classes at church schools like BYU and Ricks. I didn’t mind. In fact, my Book of Mormon class from Keith Sellers (1966-1995; B.S., M.S., Ed.D., BYU, 1959, 1962, 1965) precipitated some of the most awesome spiritual experiences of my young life up to that time. Dr. Sellers’s enthusiasm for what he was teaching went straight to my heart.

Although attendance at the weekly devotional is not mandatory, it was because I went to these events that I can say that I obtained real and direct revelation for the first time in my life. As President Eyring sat on the stand, I listened in reverence and awe to Elder LeGrand Richards share his wonderfully enthusiastic testimony of the gospel to the students and faculty in 1974.

That night I knelt in my dorm room and prayed like I had never prayed before. I wanted to know what LeGrand Richards knew. I wanted to know what Keith Sellers knew. I wanted to know what my mother knew. The experience is too sacred to share in this format but I can say that I obtained a kind of knowledge that night that changed my life forever.

Revelation changes everything

So many things changed for me with that one experience. I knew that I loved the Lord. I knew that everything I had been taught by my mother about the church and the gospel was true. I knew that what I had been taught by my primary, Sunday School and seminary teachers was true. I knew I wanted to go on a mission. I knew I would only marry in the temple.

After that experience I understood why we don’t share everything we know when we teach the gospel. It’s not that we don’t want to. It’s just that we can’t. The phrase “constraint of the spirit” found in D&C 63:64 suddenly made more sense to me. I found that I could not really talk about what happened that night with anyone who had not experienced it for themselves.

That was not the only time I have experienced direct revelation. There were several others just as powerful that were provided at a time when I was preparing for my mission. I spent a solid six months of intense daily personal study immersed in the gospel as found in the scriptures and supplemented by all those books mother had so thoughtfully provided over the years.

Summary and conclusion

If you look at my official transcript from Rick’s college you might be tempted to say that my parent’s investment in my education was wasted. But mother knew differently. Even though I felt like an academic failure, I carried with me a new sense of purpose and commitment that I did not have before I was taught by Keith Sellers and heard LeGrand Richards speak.

I still had much growing up to do. The mission changed my study habits and taught me the importance of paying the price of hard work in order to achieve something worthwhile. Marriage in the temple blessed my life with covenants that have led to my greatest happiness so far. Years of service in the church have only served to deepen that initial revelatory experience.

When I teach the gospel or speak in church I cannot share everything I know but I don’t have to. When I prepare well and speak under the inspiration of the spirit of the Lord, the Holy Ghost carries the depth of what I can’t say to the hearts of my students and listeners. It is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences to speak under the influence of that sacred spirit.

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11 Responses

  1. Excellent essay, and I enjoyed reading about the “failed” bookstore as well in the link that you provided.Gospel education is the highest form of education, and I like your mother’s approach. Allow the student to take small steps with assistance. Encourage the student to walk on his/her own when ready.Ultimately, a testimony is a personal thing, something that takes hard work, personal study, prayer, etc. “Constraint of the spirit” involves true humility. Spiritual achievements are NOT discussed in the same manner as worldly achievements.I did not have a mother who could coach me in spiritual issues like you. Consequently, it has taken me longer to learn spiritual serenity, especially when confronted by historical issues. The good news is that I have made significant progress on that dimension over the years.My parents did teach me a version of Church history. Despite those teachings, I attended Church, which by the way, did not help me much on the history issues my parents raised. My parents were less active LDS, who slowly became more active after I left the house.So, this is a long way of saying I am glad to have encountered your blog site, as I too have had “a different kind of religious education.”

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  2. Nice post, Tim. I like the approach your mother took to teaching you abut LDS history — r actually giving you the resources to teach yourself.

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  3. [...] first revelatory experience to which I’ll refer was obtained while I was a student at BYU Idaho.

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  4. Same applies to me. Sometimes I get frustrated when I hear people or I have to teach or give a talk because I have to carefully chose my words. Some are not ready, some will never be. Then I think that no matter how far I think I am on the road what does God really think of my progression? Are there also things that I think I understand but I definitely don’t? Not in the sense that I could know it all in any subject right now but with the iead of being on the right path. Am I really as far on the road as I think I am?
    I love to read your blog as well as Ray’s. You two help me keep in check and not get too frustrated or proud.

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  5. [...] first revelatory experience to which I’ll refer was obtained while I was a student at BYU Idaho.

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  6. [...] speak about the power of a testimony and how it had blessed his life as a missionary. Never had I felt the spirit impress me that I needed to have a testimony like his. I spent hours praying each night that week until on [...]

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  7. […] had attended Rick’s College before my mission and enjoyed a Book of Mormon class from Keith Sellers. He got me excited about […]

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